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How to Understand the Dressage Judges’ Comments

judges comments dressage terminology

The judge’s remarks on your dressage score sheet are intended to act as an aid to your schooling at home. The judge will point out areas that need work, as well as those that are pleasing.

If you’re new to competing, some of these comments (and abbreviations) can be a little confusing and it can seem as though the judge is talking in another language. 

Often, some of these comments can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, resulting in the rider struggling to make progress.

The best thing to do is to take your scoresheet(s) with you when you see your trainer. He/she will be best placed to help you understand how the comments relate to you and your horse, and how to go about improving on any issues.

In the meantime, we have put together a glossary of commonly-used judges’ remarks to help you decipher what they mean, along with links to relevant articles to assist you in improving for future tests.

Quick-jump menu

The bullet-pointed list below contains all the judge’s comments that we have included in this post. Each one of them has a quick-jump link taking you to the relevant place in the article.


Above the bit

This comment describes a horse that is not working over a rounded back to seek an elastic contact.

Instead, the horse will hollow his back, trail his hocks, and lift his head as he stops stretching forwards into the bit.

Related Reads: 


Against the hand

When a horse is said to be ‘against the hand’ this means that there is resistance to the contact and it is often shown in one or more of the following ways:

  • mouth open
  • head tilting
  • unsteady head
  • snatching at the contact
  • tongue out of the side of the mouth

The horse can come against the hand for a variety of reasons, including:

  • a loss of balance/falling onto the forehand
  • tension
  • a rider with an inconsistent rein contact
  • a rider that creates too much backward pressure on the bit
  • incorrectly fitting tack (e.g. bridle, bit, saddle)

Related Reads: 


Behind the leg

This remark refers to a horse that is not responding correctly to the rider’s leg aids.

The horse can either be too slow to respond to the leg, or the horse may run away from the leg.

Related Reads: 


Behind the vertical (BTV)

This remark describes the horse whose nose is no longer on or slightly in front of the vertical. 

It can be caused by a variety of reasons, some are listed below.

  • The rider may have a short and tight rein contact, so the horse is unable to take his nose forward.
  • Young and inexperienced horses often don’t have the engagement to stay connected to the bridle for long periods and they may briefly drop behind the vertical.
  • The horse could lose balance onto the forehand, dropping his poll and nose behind the vertical.
  • A horse that is ridden incorrectly with a backward hand may learn to duck behind the contact instead of stretching into it. This is most commonly seen in horses that are ridden in a double bridle, as they attempt to escape the action of the curb.

Related Reads: 


Brief G&R

G&R is the abbreviation for the ‘give and retake of the reins.’

This movement should be ridden over two or three strides.

In a dressage test, if the rider yields the hands forward but then quickly takes back the contact, then they’re likely to get this comment and lose a couple of marks.

Related Reads: 


Circle not round

When riding a circle in a dressage test, it must be in the correct place and of the correct size and shape; not square, not oval-shaped, and not 3-feet to the left of the marker!

When ridden correctly, this tells the judge that the horse is supple enough to bend uniformly around the rider’s leg, remaining on one single track as he follows the line of the circle. It also tests the rider’s accuracy and ability to coordinate their bending aids correctly.

Related Reads: 


Crooked (quarters right/left)

This comment refers to the horse pushing his quarters to the left or right, and it demonstrates a lack of straightness.

It’s most commonly seen on centerlines, when going around circles and turns, and during the canter work.

Related Reads:


Dragging

During the rein-back, the horse must take clear, clean steps in a diagonal sequence.

Sometimes, instead of purposely lifting their legs and placing them back down again, the horse drags their feet and hurries. This is usually caused by tension and/or the rider using too much rein and rushing the horse backward.

Related Read:


Dwelt

This comment usually refers to upward transitions, especially from the trot/walk into the canter.

These transitions must be ridden both upwards and forwards. However, if the transition goes too much upwards and not enough forwards, then the transition becomes too upright and appears to almost pause before going forwards again. That is when you’ll get this comment.

Related Reads:


Falling in

This describes a horse that is drifting and leaning inwards away from the outside track and the corners of the arena. It usually indicates a lack of balance, connection, and correct bending.

It will be difficult to ride accurately sized and shaped circles, and the ride may also find themselves trying to hold the horse out with the outside rein, causing the horse to bend through its neck to the outside. (Not good.)

Related Reads: 


Falling out through the shoulder

If the rider is not bending the horse correctly, or the horse lacks lateral suppleness and balance, then the horse may fall out through his outside shoulder.

This makes it difficult to execute smaller circles and patterns as the horse will always drift outwards through his shoulder.

Related Read: 


G&R not clear

G&R is the abbreviation for the ‘give and retake of the reins.’

The movement requires the rider to show a clear visible looping of the rein for two to three strides. If the rider didn’t clearly release the contact, then this is the comment they will receive along with a deduction of a few marks.

Related Reads: 


Halt not square

When asked to halt, the horse should execute a balanced transition, leaving him standing square or “with a leg at each corner.”

If the horse halts with uneven shoulders or with a leg trailing, the rider will lose a few marks and receive this comment.

Related Reads: 


Head tilting

You’ll get this remark if your horse tips his head to one side.

It usually happens around small circles or any exercise that requires the horse to flex at the poll and bend uniformly through his body.

Often, the head tilting is caused by the rider asking for the bend incorrectly or by riding the horse too deep and round and neck.

Related Reads: 


High behind/croup high

This comment is usually given for canter work, transitions, and/or flying changes, and refers to the horse’s croup popping up while the forehand remains on the ground.


Hocks/hind legs trailing

If the horse’s hocks are out behind him instead of stepping underneath his body to take his weight, you might get this comment.

It can apply to all movements but it is usually applied to the medium or extended paces, or the halt.

Related Reads:


Hollowing

It is our goal to have the horse’s hindlegs stepping actively under with his core muscles engaged and his back raised and rounded.

When a horse is said to be ‘hollowing’, this means the back under the saddle is down and the horse’s hind legs are not stepping under.

Related Reads:


Immobility not maintained

In the directives on your dressage sheet for the halt at the end of every test, you’ll see the instruction, “Halt. Immobility. Salute.”

If the horse fidgets or if the rider salutes immediately and then leaves the arena, you may see the comment, “immobility not maintained” on your scoresheet.

Related Read: 


Irregular

“Irregular” is a comment you definitely don’t want to see on your scoresheet! Judges are taught not to use the words “lame” and “unlevel.” That’s because riders have been known to send a letter from their vet to dressage committees insisting that their horse is sound after a judge has commented on its lack of soundness.

So, if a judge deems a horse to be momentarily unlevel or “not quite right,” you will see the comment, “irregular” on your scoresheet.

In cases of very marked lameness, the judge will stop the competitor and tell them that, in their opinion, the horse is unsound and they will not be allowed to continue on welfare grounds.

Related Reads:


Leaning in

This comment is similar to a horse that is seen to be falling in.

Leaning inwards indicates a lack of correct bend, this is because leaning and bending are mutually exclusive. So, if the horse is leaning, he’s not bending correctly. But if the horse is bending correctly, then he won’t be leaning.

Related Reads:


Loops not even

This comment applies to serpentines. Each loop of the serpentine must be the same size.

If you ride one loop smaller than the others, you’ll be penalized for lack of accuracy, and the comment you get will be “loops not even,” or “loops unequal.”

The judge wants to see that the horse can bend comfortably in both directions equally.

Related Reads: 


Losing connection and frame

This comment is used to describe a transition or a movement where the horse comes above the bit and loses his balance, usually because the connection through the horse’s back to the contact is momentarily lost.

In other words, the horse stopped working ‘through’ to the contact.

Related Reads:


Losing rhythm

This comment is made when the horse’s rhythm is not consistent.

Often, the rhythm is variable due to tension or because of a momentary loss of balance through a turn or after a transition or movement.

Related Reads:


Needs more ground cover

“Needs more ground cover” is often used to describe a weak medium or extended trot/canter that lacks ground cover, i.e., the steps are too short and do not show adequate lengthening.

Sometimes, you might get this comment against a free walk or extended walk for the same reason.

Related Reads:


Needs more jump

A canter that is flat, lacking impulsion and a clear moment of suspension is sometimes commented on as “lacking jump.”

This is a common error that many riders make when attempting collected canter for the first time in the early stages of their horse’s training.

Related Reads: 


Needs to show more difference

This comment usually refers to the medium trot or medium canter at the novice levels.

The judge is looking to see a clear difference in stride length between the working and medium paces. If that is lacking, you may get the comment, “needs to show more difference.”

Related Reads:


Not centered

You’ll get this comment if you’ve ridden a circle that’s not placed correctly.

For example, if a 15-meter circle should be ridden at “A,” the circle should start and finish at “A,” not a meter or two to one side of the letter.

Related Reads:


Not in diagonals

When you ride the rein-back, the horse’s legs must move backward in clear diagonal pairs.

If they don’t, you’ll get this comment.

Related Reads: 


Not tracking-up

For the horse to be tracking-up, his hind feet should step into the prints left by his forelegs, and it’s a requirement in some paces, such as the working trot.

Tension and a lack of suppleness are often a cause of this fault.

Related Reads:


On the forehand/could be more uphill

This comment refers to the impression that the majority of the horse’s weight is on his shoulders and forehand, and his balance is therefore downhill.

‘Could be more uphill’ nicely illustrates what the dressage judge is looking for, i.e. that the horse appears to be moving literally up a hill, with more of his weight on his hindquarters than on his forehand.

rebalancing of the horse dressage

When a horse is on his forehand, he may fall in through the corners of the arena, and his lateral work will lack fluency and self-carriage.

Related Read: 


On two tracks

“On two tracks” refers to the horse being crooked. The horse should move as if on railway tracks; the hind feet stepping into the prints left by the corresponding fore feet.

If the horse is crooked, you will see that he is moving on more than one track.

Related Reads: 


Quarters leading/in advance

‘Quarters leading’ or ‘quarters in advance’ is a term that’s used to describe a half-pass or a leg-yield where the horse’s hindquarters appear to be moving ahead of his shoulders.

This is a serious fault that will lose the rider many marks.

Related Reads:


Resting off/near hind

This comment refers to the halt.

During the halt, each leg should bear the same weight. However, some horses have a habit of resting one hind leg when in halt. That’s when you’ll get the comment, “resting off/near hind.”

Related Reads: 


Running

This remark is frequently used during a medium trot where instead of lengthening the strides, the horse simply rushes and runs.

This is usually caused by a lack of preparation before the medium trot and/or a lack of suppleness and understanding of the movement.

Related Reads:


Short in neck

This refers to a horse that has closed the gap underneath the throatlatch area and his head and neck look to have been squished together.

This could be due to the horse not stretching sufficiently forwards with the neck to seek the bit, or because the rider has a restrictive contact and/or is using too much curb rein.

Related Reads:


Stuck

This describes the horse’s hind legs during pirouettes, as they often “stick” and stop stepping if the rhythm is lost.

Typically, this happens if the pirouette is made too small for the horse’s current level of training or he loses activity and impulsion.

Related Reads: 


Tense/tight through the back

You might see this comment on your score sheet if your horse has become worried or anxious, or if your horse lacks longitudinal suppleness and throughness.

Tightening through the topline can also be displayed by the horse not going forward, a shortening of the steps, and a loss of the correct rhythm.

Related Reads: 


Too free

Usually, this remark is applied to a collected walk where the steps are not collected enough.

It’s another way of saying, “lacks collection.”

Related Reads:


Unsteady halt/fidgeting

During the halt, the horse should stand completely still.

If he moves or refuses to remain immobile, the judge may remark that he is “fidgeting” or “unsteady” in the halt.

Related Reads: 


Wandering

You’ll get this remark if you allow the horse to wander or drift.

It usually comes from a lack of connection and not riding forwards enough, and is most commonly seen on the centerline.

Related Reads: 


Wide behind

In order for the horse to be able to use his hindquarters correctly, they need to be actively stepping forwards and under his center of gravity.

A horse’s hips are wider than his shoulders, so the comment ‘wide behind’ refers to a horse that splays his hindlegs outwards as opposed to tracking them inwards and closer together.

Essentially, this is a straightness and engagement issue.

Related Reads:


In conclusion

Those are probably the most commonly used terms on your dressage scoresheet that might require further explanation. However, if you don’t understand something the judge has written, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification; most judges are very approachable and are happy to explain what they mean.

If there are any other comments that you have received on your dressage sheet that you would like more information on, then pop them in the comments box below and we will do our best to help.

Related Reads:




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